Genres like erotica have a lot of rules. Although it can seem that, as Tom Lehrer pointed out “when correctly viewed, everything is lewd,” different publishers have there own hot buttons that aren’t in their submission guidelines. There are things they want to see and things they don’t. In a sense, this is because there are genres within genres and lots of gray area surrounds them.
I’ve been thinking about this recently as I’ve interacted with some good publishers–reading their responses to a book, a novel, that I am trying to place. It seems that although the editors like the book, or at least consider it well written, it contains things that offend their sensibilities. Now I am not talking about obvious things like rape or bestiality, or any of the things listed commonly as reasons you will not get published; no, the issue is that characters are not treated in what is perceived as a romantic way, or that a character must make unpleasant choices. Like real people, characters do things we’d rather they didn’t at times. A story is about specific characters and, to be interesting and effective, the story must proceed logically and the characters act with a certain congruence, even if that is unpleasant. That is a function of literature–following things to their conclusion.
I think my real problem is that I teethed on great literature and try to write (to the best of my ability) great erotic literature. Many great books are not about nice people, or people with the best of motives. An exploration of human nature sometimes turns over rocks that have less agreeable things underneath. The writer must, to paraphrase Eliot, “meet upon this honestly.” In a genre, within its confines, there are other requirements that can be more important.
This has been an interesting learning experience and the only disagreeable part is that it slows the search as I have to find a publisher who wants what I offer. If I disagree with these particular editors about what readers will object to, perhaps they are right when it comes to their own readers, their target audience. My interactions with them suggest that they are professionals. If they are correct, then it follows that I shouldn’t be publishing with them. Publishing is very much a joint venture and the end product should accurately represent the best that both the author and publisher can offer. That means agreeing on the tone as well a the quality of the work.
There is no great lesson her. Just flakes of reality that are a byproduct of the search.